07/24/2004 12:00AM

Sterling Cat wins CTBA

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Sterling Cat remained unbeaten in two starts after a hard-fought win in Friday's $125,000 California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Stakes at Del Mar.

The victory has owner Jim Vreeland hoping Sterling Cat can be a factor in the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 28, the top race for 2-year-old fillies at this meeting.

"That's where we're headed and we stopped here along the way," Vreeland said.

In the CTBA Stakes, restricted to California-bred fillies, Sterling Cat justified her role as the 6-5 favorite with a strong ride from jockey Russell Baze.

Sterling Cat broke remarkably fast and dueled with Miss January through quick fractions of 21.56 and 44.96 seconds. She trailed by a head in midstretch, but slowly pulled clear to win by three-quarters of a length. Sterling Cat ($4.60) finished 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.21.

The victory was her first start in Southern California, following a two-length maiden win at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton on July 3.

"She broke the same way at Pleasanton," trainer Jeff Bonde said. "She never makes mistakes."

Miss January held second, a length in front of first-time starter Proposed.

Proposed is a full sister to Silent Sighs, winner of this year's Santa Anita Oaks.

Sterling Cat has earned $93,675. She was the sale topper at the Barretts yearling sale last October, selling for $160,000.